From Penny Roberts, Colorado Girl Scout alumna and volunteer
A year or so ago, the Girl Scouts of Colorado Promise Partners adult alumnae group decided it wanted to go to the International Festival & Butterfly Event at Our Cabana, the Girl Scout/Girl Guides World Center in Cuernavaca, Mexico. It started out with about four Colorado-area friends, and expanded into a total of 14 women from 6 different states who organized, planned and brought about this incredible journey in February of 2014. Included in the group were three mother-daughter pairs and renewed friendships going back almost 50 years. People knew people who invited others, and while nobody knew everyone, everyone knew someone in the group. The group got signed up and began receiving information from Our Cabana about the event, the schedule and the activities offered during the nine-day stay.
Monarch butterflies migrate each year from Canada to Mexico and back again. It takes three generations to go south and two generations to go back north again, and the science of this migration is one of the most talked-about biological phenomena in the world. Recently, it has been observed that the migrations are smaller in size and scope, partly because of the fact that the milkweeds, upon which monarchs feed, have been largely eradicated from their flight paths in favor of mono-culture agriculture in the USA. (Yes, we need more milkweeds to have more monarchs, and, hence, the choice of “Milkweeds” for the name we gave our traveling group.)
So, here’s how the trip unfolded along with some of the highlights:
All of us met in Dallas from five different airports and flew together to Mexico City, where we spent a night at the Girl Guides’ hostel, Ticalli. We enjoyed a great evening of sightseeing around downtown areas, and searched out interesting places to eat and to shop. Shopping became a highlight of the trip in all locales, so we won’t dwell on this much, except to say that there are lots of interesting things to buy by way of jewelry, textiles, crafts and souvenirs in every direction we traveled.
A tour of the Mexico City’s highlights followed the next morning and by the end of the day, after a breathtaking tour of the archeological sites and pyramids of Teotihuacan, we arrived in the late evening at Our Cabana. From the theme song of this World Center, “When you see the warm red roofs you’ll think of hearts that glow with cheer,” and the gracious greetings given to us by the staff headed us to our warm dormitory beds.
The grounds of Our Cabana this time of year are already budding and glowing with flowers. Plumeria, bougainvillaea, poinsettia trees (!), birds of paradise, cactus and the tulip trees are already in bloom. There are several lemon trees on the grounds, which provide fresh fruit already. The swimming pool is bright blue, nice and warm, and inviting. The trick there is to find the free time to take a dip, a swim and a bask in the sun. The craft house is inviting, too, and we were tasked with making and decorating a real piñata of ceramic and bright paper for the Mexican fiesta later in the week. Mexican bark paintings, ceramic painting, straw paintings and constructions, name tags, and butterflies of all shapes and sizes and forms were among the choices.
There’s a bright, spacious dining hall with a wall of WAGGGS flags, and the kitchen staff dutifully produced luscious typical Mexican fare for all meals. There’s a very large meeting room with a stage and a library, a tennis court, a ball field and a fabulous campfire arena. The grounds are walled, fenced and very secure, even in the middle of a big Mexican city. There are blue and gold metal gates with the WAGGGS logo on it, and a perfect place for photo ops of all kinds, which are eagerly and regular taken up by all participants.
The 14 of us from the USA were joined by about 40 others from the following countries – - England, Wales, Guernsey, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Group photos of all of us were routinely taken to go into the archives. Swapping of trinkets, memorabilia, information and friendship is a huge part of such an international gathering.
Thinking Day celebrates the fact that Girl Scouts and Girl Guides are currently operating in 145 countries and reaches more than 10,000,000 (yes, that’s MILLIONS) of girls all over the globe. In that spirit, more than 200 girls and young women arrived at Our Cabana on Thinking Day to celebrate with all the others worldwide and to participate in International Festival and cultural exchanges. Our adult group planned a wide-game format of activities, to emphasize the importance of education for all girls and women around the world. Why is it important for girls to stay in school? What happens when girls stay in school? What can we do to help girls stay in school?
More swapping took place at lunch and throughout the afternoon, and our group was surprised to learn that these girls wanted to swap EVERYTHING!!! Shirts, scarves, books, insignia, memorabilia, etc., and if we had known that, we would have brought along a lot more to swap. The smiles were certainly evident all over Our Cabana, when we appeared wearing Mexican uniform pieces, and they wore ours! We even got instructions in how the girls wound up their triangle-shaped scarves so they can be tied properly in friendship knots.
The Mexican fiesta, the mariachi band, the casino night, the salsa dancing, the WAGGGS training activity – - – more things to do than we can recount. One special highlight was the large group of more than 40 senior citizens from a facility in Cuernavaca, who joined us for the morning and lunch-time for service projects designed to entertain, enlighten, and spread health and happiness to this congenial group of older folks. The fact that they don’t speak much English, and we certainly don’t speak much Spanish, didn’t deter our “Milkweeds” from offering relaxing sugar and oil-based hand scrubs and warm rice-filled neck bands while listening to soft, soothing music.
OK, so, no, I didn’t forget about the butterflies – - – the Rosario Monarch butterfly preserve near Angangueo was a long 6-hour bus ride from Our Cabana, but an overnight stay in the gorgeous Hotel Don Bruno, a short jaunt up the hill toward town and a relaxing dinner and after-dinner drink on the porches, enabled us to acclimate to the higher altitudes which would take us up to the Preserve. A truck ride to the parking lots takes us to the trails up to nearly 11,000 feet and the places where the butterflies congregate by the millions over acres and acres of land for their winter rest. They clump together on trees and bushes to stay warm in the mountain air, but when the sun comes up and they begin to get warm, they flutter their wings en masse and then open up and then begin to fly. Our pictures do not do justice to the awesome spectacle, and for me particularly, I was so engrossed with watching that I nearly forgot to take pictures. We were told that if we wore white or yellow we would attract the monarchs to land on us, and while were cautioned not to touch them or pick them up, if they landed on us, we could have very close encounters with these beauties. Some folks even had 2 or 3 or more on them at one time. They held their breath and hoped the communion could continue for a little longer. To say this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us is an understatement, one which we will be relating to others for a long time to come.
Of course, it was hard to leave Our Cabana, but after a closing ceremony, a pinning ceremony, photos all around and bus schedules to keep, we found ourselves the last group to leave. E-mails, addresses and promises to keep in touch, and to come back again were exchanged, along with a couple of tears. Enjoy the photos that accompany this account. Summarized in the final words of the song of Our Cabana, “So come now to Our Cabana, world friendship to increase, and carry to our homeland international peace.”